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“I am very optimistic about 2021,” said Kari Tarnowski, the new sr. v.p. of marketing for American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC), during a recent chat with Recommend. In this new year, she says, “there are some real opportunities in how we welcome our guests back on board.”

Tarnowski has had her feet planted firmly in the cruise industry for some time, having worked with Crystal Cruises, Silversea, and Regent. She’s also worked with Sandals and Beaches Resorts, and she notes that her experience “provides a unique perspective that I believe will be a valuable contribution to the AQSC and Victory Cruise Lines (VCL) leadership team.

Kari Tarnowski, AQSC’s new Senior VP of Marketing.

“We’re going to be focusing on the new overall marketing strategy, we’ll be focusing on optimizing what we’re currently doing, how we work with our sales team and travel partners, offering them customer insight, and making sure our guests are happy with their loyalty program. Additionally, at AQSC and Victory Cruise Lines (VCL), we understand the important role travel advisors play in our success, so we look forward to working with them and supporting them in a mutually beneficial relationship.”

She says that she’s excited about welcoming “loyal guests back on board and to create these amazing experiences. Just making sure we’re doing it well and doing it with safety and comfort in mind.”

Part of Tarnowski’s excitement comes from the new enhancements and offerings the cruise lines, both AQSC and VCL, will be featuring on board. She notes that “in addition to our extensive health and safety protocols, we have new suite amenities and culinary experiences. We’ll be featuring USDA prime beef as well as fresh lobster every night.”

Other culinary upgrades include unlimited beverages—world-class wine lists, top-shelf spirits, local craft beers and specialty coffees from open bars and lounges throughout the vessel; and complimentary smoothie and juice bar offered on board every morning. Amenity enhancements, meanwhile, include choice of Clarins, The White Company or royally appointed Floris cleansers and moisturizers; signature in-room culinary treats; $25 shipping credit for suite guests; and optional sleep masks and ear plugs. Other perks for guests include pre-cruise gift featuring AQSC/VCL logo; handwarmers for cold weather itineraries; cool cloths for hot weather itineraries; heated towels on the American Queen pool deck; special treats passed out on cruising days; and complimentary hiking sticks for inclusive itineraries, among others.

The selling point, she says, is that all of these enhancements are included in the all-inclusive fare, plus with both operators there’s the 1-night pre-cruise hotel stay with free ground transfers between the hotel and vessel, as well as included hop-on/hop-off shore excursions provided by Shore Excursions of America, part of the Hornblower Company.

In regard to the operators’ health and safety protocols, Tarnowski says, “We’re going to do everything we can to put [passengers’] minds at ease by offering such increased safety and hygiene precautions as reduced ship capacities, a mask mandate in all public areas, and we will have 100 percent COVID-19 testing for all guests and crew prior to embarkation on every voyage.”

She stresses, too, that both AQSC and VCL are uniquely positioned to offer vacations close to home, “more intimate cruising options with domestic river cruises and the Great Lakes offerings. You can see special parts of the country that only require a short domestic flight or car trip, so we think that these drivable embarkation/disembarkation ports will be easily accessible. Additionally, we access smaller ports of call domestically than the larger cruise lines, so that means iconic American cities such as New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, as well as small treasures such as Paducah, Kentucky, and Natchez, Mississippi. These communities have been very hard hit by the pandemic, so we are very proud to be supporting their recovery and bringing guests to experience these places.”

And one thing to remind your clients, she says, is that “our vessels are never out of sight of land, so there’s access to shoreside healthcare if it were to be needed, or if there was an issue.”

The 2021 Sailing Season
AQSC and VCL will also kick-off the 2021 sailing season debuting two vessels to their fleets. The 245-passenger American Countess, which was lengthened by 60 ft. and underwent a total renovation, will sail 6- to 15-day itineraries along the Tennessee, Ohio, Cumberland and Mississippi rivers. As of press time, the paddlewheeler is set to debut this spring, and will feature a portside bar with an 80-ft. panoramic view, four decks and 123 staterooms in four categories. The 93-suite Ocean Victory, meanwhile, will feature two restaurants, in addition to an open-deck dining area, piano bar, library, gym, heated outdoor pool, spa services and jacuzzi, plus observation and lecture lounges and a dedicated expedition and outdoor adventure launch platform.

For the 2022 season, AQSC will be launching a special edition Scenic Gorges in Autumn itinerary, a 12- or 13- day voyage from Memphis to Chattanooga, or reverse, as well as a Roundtrip Cincinnati experience and other new voyages. VCL will be showcasing the best of North America with its brand-new 11-day trip from Montreal to Detroit and 17-day expedition from Savannah to Halifax.

American Duchess in the Upper Mississippi.

Wave Season Offers
During the current Wave season, passengers can maximize savings on 2021 and 2022 cruises with AQSC and VCL’s Wave Offers. Guests can save up to $3,000 per stateroom for 2021 voyages and up to $1,200 when booking a cruise for 2022. The offer is accompanied by a Risk-Free Booking policy that allows guests to move their reservation to a later date within 120-61 days from original booked voyage, penalty-free. The Wave Offer expires Feb. 28, 2021.

Agent Tools
Tarnowski says that travel advisors can stay up to date and gain the knowledge they need to sell AQSC and Victory via the SAVA Academy, the combined Steamboat and Victory Academy. The academy incorporates content from both AQSC and Victory and provides on-demand training modules and integrated quizzes for prospective SAVA-certified advisors.

“The travel advisor is more important than ever,” says Tarnowski. “As customers are looking at 2021 and beyond, travel advisors can talk to their clients about the health and safety protocols, the travel deals, the flexible booking policies…they can guide them.”

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